Safety on the High Seas

boatsAny time you are out on the water, whether on a river, ocean, or anything in between, there is much joy to be had. But as with any activity, there are inherent dangers that come along with the joy, and can turn a pleasant excursion into tragedy very quickly. This is especially true in the vast waterways of Alaska. The extreme cold winters and short mild summers, keeps most water at a very cold temperature, and must be taken seriously when one is pursuing a water activity. There are many different modes of water transportation, but there are certain safety measures that can be applied to any type of h20 excursion. Although these mostly pertain to Alaska, they can be utilized in any state or country.

1. Always be prepared.

There is a saying, “Hope for the best, Prepare for the worst”, and it’s true. The better you are prepared you are at all times, the greater the chance of survival when things go wrong. Weather and water conditions are usually a motivation to get out, and many times is a illusion of relative safety. However, just because it is sunny and calm does not mean it will stay that way. Always be prepared for a disaster, problem or change of plans.  You cannot know for sure what the conditions will be like half way through the day, and especially here in Alaska, you cannot always trust the weather man. Weather is the biggest concern, but also be prepared for a medical emergency. There are different levels of preparedness, and it is up to you to determine what is adequate for the type of excursion or time of year that it may be. However, here is a list of some basic things to have on board at all times.

  • Life Jackets. Much like a seat belt, they only work when you are wearing one, so forget the fashion and done a life saver.
  • First Aid Kit. It’s always good to have one on board, and any number of accidents can take place while boating,
  • Extra clothes and rain gear. Weather can change quickly, and it never hurts to have extra jackets to shed water, but also having dry clothes and or sleeping bag is critical to survival in the event of some one overboard.
  • Oars or paddles. If you lose power, you have to switch to manual power to get home again. Make sure you have two oars though, which will make paddling much easier
  • Radio. Some form of communication to help is critical  and will have to be determined based on the local system. Up here it is marine band VHF, where someone can be contacted at all times. Personal location devices such as SPOT, are becoming very inexpensive, and can save lives in an emergency situation, and is a good safety contact to have.
  • Survival kit. Just think about the if-then scenarios, and what would make life easier and safer in those conditions. This can include various items such as img_1204
    • Fire Starter
    • Hand warmers
    • Emergency food
    • Tarp or space blanket
  • Extra fuel and oil. Necessary items to keep a motor running properly.
  • Tools and spare parts. Having a good assortment of tools is valuable for maintenance of the boat motor.
  • Throw rings or pads. Good seat cushion and safety retrieval device.
  • Signaling device, such as flares, whistle, foghorn.
  • Anchor and tie down lines.
  • Current tide tables if boating in the ocean or tidal effected regions.
  • The United States Coast Guard also has a-lot of information on safety and preparedness.

2. Make a boat plan.

If something goes wrong while you are out on the water, and no one knows where you are going or the time frame you will be traveling, then they will not know to come looking and bring help. It is a good back up to have some one checking on you and being aware of your where a bouts. Basically a boat plan is telling someone where you are going, and the amount of time it will take, and usually you check in with them via radio or phone upon arrival. That way if they don’t hear from you they know to come looking for you and where to look.

3. Use common sense.

If there are waves building, high winds, or people that may get sea sick, then you may want to consider if it is worth going, especially if it is just a pleasure trip. However, in some of the remote places in Alaska require boating as part of necessary transportation, such as in Lake Clark where I live. In those cases some less than perfect boating conditions must be endured to get where you need to go, and accomplish tasks. But even in those cases, common sense must be used to make good decisions.

4. Keep boat and equipment maintained.

A few minutes to look over your boat, and making sure your equipment is up to par, can save you from problems and possible dangerous situations. Make sure you have enough gas to get where you are going. Check for leaks and or water in the bilge of the boat. Make sure the motor oil is full and changed as often as indicated in your manual. Regular maintenance of your engine is critical, and if you are within access of a dealer or repair shop, have it checked out annually, or do a run through yourself. Early identification of problems are better than finding out too late.

5. Keep your boat safe

If you are only keeping your boat at a dock then simply keeping buoys or bumpers between the boat and the dock can keep your boat from wearing on the hull. However if you are going to be pulling up on the shore on a lake or river, then care should be taken to keep your boat tied securely and that your not having wear on the bow of the boat from sharp rocks or rough gravel. Using a boat ladder made out of wood or simply a small log, to pull the boat up on, can add a lot of life to the hull of your boat. Also try to only land your boat on sand or small gravel that will not damage your boat. And also make sure that you pull your boat up adequately to keep from getting swamped from waves, or rising water.

Boating, whether for pleasure, business, or necessity, should be taken seriously, and as long as you take the right precautions you can keep it fun and enjoyable.

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